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Hollande ‘won’t seek second term’ if unemployment continues to rise

French President François Hollande poses prior to the start of an interview on French TV channel TF1, on November 6, 2014
French President François Hollande poses prior to the start of an interview on French TV channel TF1, on November 6, 2014 AFP / Martin Bureau

French President François Hollande on Thursday said he would not seek re-election in 2017 if unemployment continued to rise as he made a primetime appeal to French voters to trust him to turn around the country’s struggling economy.

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He admitted he had made mistakes as president, acknowledging that he had overestimated the possibility of curbing unemployment figures, which reached 3.43 million jobless in September.

Hollande, whose approval ratings have sunk to a record low halfway through his presidency, also took the opportunity to make a number of promises and announce new measures, notably that no new taxes would be introduced starting next year.

“Starting next year, there will be no additional taxes of any kind,” he said live on TF1 television. “And tax cuts that have already been announced [for France’s lowest earners] will be maintained.”

For more than 90 minutes, Hollande fielded questions from well-known television and radio hosts, as well as four ordinary people who shared their everyday challenges and concerns with the head of state.

The question-and-answer session touched on a wide variety of subjects, including the pensions system, entrepreneurship and the migration of families away from rural areas, but often returned to France’s near-stagnant economy and the difficulties people face in finding jobs.

'I don't want my country to be in absolute austerity, that's not what we're doing'

Hollande defended a series of measures he introduced that were designed to stimulate growth, included offering tax breaks to companies who hire new workers. He insisted the way back to a healthy economy was through a vast green energy programme.

He aimed to end on a high note by saying he was in favour of France applying to host the Olympic Games in 2024, and that the country was a candidate to host the World Expo 2025.

"Yes, France will apply for the World Expo. That's 50 million visitors, and for the 2024 Olympic Games, I am in favour of the city of Paris presenting its candidacy, if it decides to do so."

‘Worst day yet’

Hollande avoided answering questions about his messy and very public breakup with former partner Valérie Trierweiler, saying French people were only interested in hearing about what can be done to improve the state of the country.

“I accept all the criticism, even the betrayals,” he said in what appeared to be a reference to the kiss-and-tell book Trierweiler published about their relationship, which painted an extremely negative image of the president. “But I do not accept insults to France,” he added.

Initially appearing uncomfortable in the hot seat, Hollande gained in confidence as the programme advanced, often when faced with the most difficult questions.

Although Hollande is often criticised for his aloofness and reserve in public, he showed glimpses of his more compassionate side. He said that announcing the death of Frenchman Hervé Gourdel, who was killed by extremists in Algeria in September, to the victim’s family was the worst day of his presidency.

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